Women and Children First will soon begin work with the Welbodi Partnership in Sierra Leone to improve maternal and newborn health for 30,000 women and babies. This project was due to begin in 2014 but was delayed because it wasn’t possible to work with communities when people were not allowed to meet and were scared of contact with others in case they caught the virus.

This week saw the very welcome news that the WHO has declared Sierra Leone Ebola free so our plans can now be put into practice. However, the epidemic has had a huge impact on maternal health and leaves a legacy of increased teenage pregnancies.

A Report from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, VSO and Water Aid highlights the maternal health problems caused by the biggest Ebola epidemic ever recorded which hit Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in May 2014. By August 2015 there were 8,696 confirmed cases and 3,585 confirmed deaths in Sierra Leone alone.

The effect of the Ebola outbreak was not confined to individuals, but it also adversely affected public health services, particularly in maternal and newborn care. A significant number of health workers lost their lives and women were very wary of attending health facilities during the epidemic - even where services were still available. According to the Report, seven out of nine critical areas of maternity care were still provided but there were significant decreases in the numbers of women accessing antenatal and postnatal care and delivering in health centres. There was a 30% increase in maternal deaths and a 24% increase in newborn deaths.

Ebola was also most likely at the root of a spike in teenage pregnancies – some 14,000 new cases according to the Guardian. Some of these pregnancies were due to schools being closed and teenagers being bored, but others were due to desperation.

The Guardian tells the story of a teenage girl called Kadiatu Bangora, Kadiatu went to a family friend when her father was sick and she needed help to buy medicine. “You don’t get something for nothing,” the friend told her. He paid Kadiatu $65 for sleeping with him, but her father died and six weeks later she learned she was pregnant. Teenage pregnancy is seen as shameful in Sierra Leone and although her mother allowed her to stay in the house, Kaditu’s school wouldn't allow her to continue studying. Schools will allow girls back after they have delivered, but that wasn't possible for Kadiatu. "My baby arrived in February but I haven’t gone back to school because we don’t have any money,” she says.

Help us to make a difference in Sierra Leone by making a donation today.

Diane Fender, Director of Girls' Globe reports on Women and Children First's work in Malawi. This was following the Global Maternal Health Conference in Mexico City this October, where Senior Programmes Manager, Mikey Rosato presented on our successful project with the Ministry Of Health in the Ntcheu district of Malawi.

When women work together, change happens. Regardless of where you live in the world, this is a fact that cannot be denied. Women give life, care for their families, work in markets, trade commodities and help their families grow and thrive. We have all heard that if you invest in a woman, she in turn will invest 90% of what she earns back into her family to improve their livelihood. So why do millions of women – and their babies – continue to face unnecessary and life-threatening risk and danger around the world every day? Women lack access to adequate healthcare facilities, skilled birth attendants and at times are not allowed to receive care from a healthcare facility due to cultural stigmas. Despite notable progress that has been achieved, the fact remains that health disparities for women and newborns continue to be broad and interlinked.

Women and Children First wants to say a big thank you to Anna Jackson, who asked for her friends to donate to us in lieu of presents for her birthday in July 2015. Anna tells us what inspired her to donate.

‘I had an extremely difficult and dangerous childbirth experience seven years ago. Thankfully both my son and I are fine, but without medical attention during, and after, delivery we wouldn’t be here today. Our second son had to be delivered by caesarean, and this brought home the truth that childbirth doesn't always 'naturally' happen, but often involves support, advice, and in many cases medical intervention.

We now live in Switzerland. I am currently in rehabilitation following surgery on my spine and a stint in critical care. I have now experienced life saving/changing medical care in two affluent western countries. I have many things to be sad and glad about. Had I not had access to medical care, my life, and my family's life, would be tragically different.

So, with my birthday coming up I wanted to share my good fortune with other mothers who may also need support.

Family having been asking 'what would I like?', so I had the idea that I could add your charity to my Amazon 'wish list' as my only wish. However, in doing so there would be no way of knowing who had bought me a 'gift'. My husband had the idea of setting up a fundraising page, and we found that this was possible through Virgin Money Giving.

I am a full-time mum. Although as a family we donate to charity, I wanted to personally donate. By asking for donations I felt that I was directly offering something, in my small way, to mothers elsewhere in the world’.

Thank you Anna!

11 October is the International Day of the Girl Child – a day on which we recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.  This year marks much activity in the development field which is relevant to help girls exercise their rights and have a better life.  There have been many reviews of the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) initiated at the turn of the millennium, and 17 new Goals – the Sustainable Development Goals - have been agreed to be achieved by 2030. 

Girls born in the year 2000 have reached already adolescence, and the generation of girls born this year will be adolescents in 2030.  Will life be any different for them than for their mothers?

The UN says this is “an opportune time to consider the importance of social, economic, and political investment in the power of adolescent girls as fundamental to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination and to achieving equitable and sustainable development outcomes.”

Women and Children First believes that things can be different.  The UN recognises that girls in the first decade of life are now more likely to enrol in primary school, receive key vaccinations, and are less likely to suffer from health and nutrition problems than were previous generations. However, there has been insufficient investment in addressing the challenges girls face when they get older and poor sexual and reproductive health, including maternal health and access to appropriate contraceptive advice and services, are still big issues for young women.

Women and Children First’s Senior Programmes Manager, Ruth Duebbert, returned recently from Uganda. This is what she had to say about her trip:

This was my first visit to Uganda and I was really taken aback by the challenges facing the communities we are working with. Above all I was taken struck by their resilience, warmth and friendliness.

Our project, being delivered in collaboration with AMREF Uganda, is located in Gulu and Amuru districts - the original home of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – which endured 20 years of civil war resulting in widescale displacement and some of the worst maternal and child death rates in the world.